​Time to Get Creative

by Iain Hopkins07 Feb 2014
With the business world changing at a rapid rate, organisational agility has never been more critical. Iain Hopkins talks to HR Summit speaker Susan Henry about unlocking creativity in complex times

“I have a great idea! Why don’t we try this...?”

How many times have you heard that from an enthusiastic employee, full of great ideas and keen to contribute to organisational success?

And then what happens? Too often, unfortunately, the great idea gets quashed amid office bureaucracy and slow processes.

Organisational agility – the ability to react swiftly to shifts in the broader economy and the industry environment – has become a buzzword in 2014. Agility also implies actively encouraging and fostering innovation, and encouraging thoughts, plans and ideas ‘out of the box’ from employees. 

It’s something Susan Henry, head of people and culture at Starlight Children’s Foundation, has seen in practice in her organisation.

“Agility is important at it ensures organisations can achieve their vision, strategy and goals in a meaningful and impactful way,” she says.

Having passionate employees who really care is a great starting point, and Starlight is blessed with a meaningful EVP that gets cut-through with all employees. Starlight is involved in delivering programs that contribute to the well-being and resilience of seriously ill children, young people and their families.

“Meeting their needs with deep impact starts with us having the right people in roles that play to their strengths,” says Henry. “This allows us to stay ahead of the game and to respond effectively to changing external trends. When people are working to their strengths and are highly aligned and engaged, they achieve great outcomes, are innovative; they care for their colleagues and together own the results.”

By the very nature of its work in the not-for-profit sector, Starlight operates as a lean, fast and entrepreneurial organisation, so there is no room for bureaucracy and red tape. “We have a strong set of values that guide the way we work, and a well-articulated two-way EVP,” Henry says.

In addition, ‘The Starlight Way’ ensures employees don’t reinvent the wheel on non-valueadding activities. “We work in a very collaborative way and our teams our completely aligned to the strategy and know how they contribute and add value,” Henry adds.

Countless companies in recent years have fallen by the wayside in failing to keep up with consumer demand, especially in terms of how technology is impacting on the delivery of goods and services. Blackberry, Kodak and music retailer HMV are three that are often cited as having a ‘head in the sand’ approach and moving too slowly.

“Again, this is all about being ahead of or abreast of external factors and ensuring we have the right balance of vision, leadership, strategy combined with a highly talented team focused on achieving great outcomes,” Henry says.

All Starlight programs have a strong foundation based on need; the organisation does not work in isolation and works collaboratively with the health sector. It then measures the impact of the work through research and evaluation.

Countless organisations claim to encourage the ‘voice of the employee’ to be heard and their ideas to bear fruit. Since Google unveiled its ‘20% time’ policy several years ago – essentially a requirement that 20% of an employee’s time is spent on project work – it has provided the launch pad for products like AdSense, Gmail and other hallmarks of the Google brand. Countless organisations have since adopted similar initiatives.

While Starlight may not have the resources to devote 20% of an employee’s day to ‘outside the box’ thinking, the company prides itself on recruiting people who have great ideas and initiatives and who are resourceful and innovative. “We work with the donated dollar so this is an imperative. Innovation and creativity is part our DNA. We encourage people to try new ideas, and the idea of ‘failing quickly’ is part of our culture,” Henry says.

Yet despite tight budgets, Henry does not see this as an excuse to squander innovative ideas. She believes it just means getting creative – and this is done by keeping people aligned, engaged and communicating consistent messages.

“This means all leaders are aligned and on the same page – and this doesn’t cost money.” 

Starlight also has certain initiatives and symbols that unite the team. ‘I-Call’ and ‘I-Care’ are initiatives to ensure employees are responsive. The ‘Bright Ideas’ initiative encourages ideas from across the organisation, and ‘Get Connected’ sees all team members spending a day per quarter working in one of the organisation’s programs out in the field.

The company also employs 90 Captain Starlights who are highly talented performers who work to transform the hospital experience for seriously ill children, young people and their families.

“The Captains bring a creative flair to the organisation and we have an innovation fund that allows them to apply for funds to see an idea through to fruition,” Henry explains.

Finally, the organisation also holds a quarterly CEO Innovation award.

At HR Summit 2014, Henry will also be exploring the topic of managing a geographically dispersed and diverse workforce. While technology is an enabler of this, Henry stresses that having a clear vision and strategy, as well as strong leadership and a values-based culture, is critical in terms of employee alignment and engagement. Most important of all, however, is having highly skilled people managers.

“People managers are responsible for ensuring their people have a great employment experience – that is, they know what’s expected, they know where the role fits with the bigger picture, they are working to their strengths, feel valued, and have opportunities for growth and development,” Henry says. “Investing in our people managers is core to our success.

Building a community of people managers and bringing them together for shared L&D equips them for their vital roles.”

In addition, Henry adds, all Starlight employees must have the resources they need to perform their roles, no matter their location. This also ties back to the concept of the ‘agile organisation’.

“A big focus for us in 2014 will be equipping our people with the information and technology to support them working in a fast, smart and mobile way,” she concludes.

“Our biggest challenge is attracting the talent we need. We need people who can succeed in any environment, but we can’t compete on dollars. Our EVP is that we offer a positive brand, meaningful and impactful work that makes a difference, and the opportunity to be part of a high-performing team. In return we recruit people who have great ideas and initiative, who can develop great relationships and who will take responsibility for making things happen. We need to get the message out externally that we off er real purpose and meaning and a great place to work.”

Susan HenrySee Susan Henry talk about cultivating organisational creativity in an age of complexity at HR Summit Sydney, 1-2 April 2014